Swizz Beatz Shills for the Saudi Government, Jacolby Satterwhite Gets a Portrait by Rachel Dolezal, and More Juicy Art-World Gossip
Plus, what artist was Wolfgang Tillmans spotted collecting in London? And check out a photo dispatch from a clued-in L.A. dealer.
Every week, Artnet News brings you Wet Paint, a gossip column of original scoops. If you have a tip, email Annie Armstrong at [email protected].
SWIZZ BEATZ POSTS SAUDI SPONCON
Art-world influencers: they do the darnedest things, and take money from the wildest places! Two days ago, Artsy chief marketing officer Everette Taylor posted an Instagram picture sponsored by Quickbooks; PBS once paid artist Pari Ehsan to visit and advertise the Met; and newly appointed Pace associate director Kimberly Drew made some easy cash earlier this year plugging a non-alcoholic liquor.
No shade from me! If anyone wants to give me money in exchange for a simple task like posting a picture, please kindly and hastily slide into my DMs. There are, however, some boundaries I think we ought to draw, no? Consider, for instance, mega-collector Swizz Beatz and his wife, Alicia Keys, who seem to have landed a very cushy job working for the Saudi government.
Late last week, Swizz publicized their cozy relationship on Instagram with a sponsored story (paid for by “Experience AlUla,” a governmental tourism arm) full of images of the fam luxuriating in the wonder of AlUla, the Saudi government’s $15 billion remodeling project.
As Swizz put it: “One of our family’s fav place to visit many times a yr is the Amazing magical place of ALULA 🙏🏽 This unesco sight is one of the worlds greatest discovery’s ever.”
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It wasn’t just a vacation. Keys was on hand at one of the world’s six remaining absolute monarchies to get some work done. On February 11, she’s giving a concert (“one night only,” according to a promo) at Maraya, the world’s largest mirrored building, also in AlUla.
The event is sponsored by Good Intentions, the “global creative agency” headquartered in Riyadh that Swizz founded late last year. The agency made its big splash last December with an art installation in the Saudi city of Jeddah.
“We’ve always wanted to work with the gatekeepers in that arena and knew Sela [the Saudi government’s public art fund] would be a partner aligned with our vision at Good Intentions,” Swizz said in December. “This is just a scratch on the surface—we’re only going bigger and more disruptive from here.”
The Saudi government, of course, has been working absolutely overtime since the brazen execution by Saudi agents of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in 2018. That little PR crisis (that’s all it really was for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the royal family) prompted a wave of artwashing efforts to clean up the ruling elite’s image.
The culture industry, in large part, has happily played along. Four months after Khashoggi’s grisly murder (his body was cut into pieces with a bone saw), the Royal Commission of AlUla still included art advisor Allan Schwartzman; Irina Bokova, the former director-general of UNESCO; and Jack Lang, the former culture minister of France, among others. In early 2020, Desert X, the nomadic biennial that first opened in the Coachella Valley in 2017, launched a new edition in AlUla.
“AlUla has always been at the crossroads of trade and culture,” said Neville Wakefield, the director of Desert X. “AlUla presents itself as the perfect site for an exhibition that explores the idea of the desert as a place of cultural interaction, dialogue and exchange.”
So Swizz’s and Keys’s sponsored trip was just another little coup for Mohammed bin Salman. Who better to distract from the government’s dismal human rights record (including executions for nonviolent offenses, the jailing of dissidents for unpalatable tweets, and a campaign of devastating airstrikes in Yemen that have contributed to the deaths of thousands, many of them children) than a very, very cool music producer and his talented and glamorous wife?
Maybe to get Swizz Beatz-level rich, you need money from some of the wealthiest monarchs in the world. I can’t say. But surely he and Keys could keep things simple, and take a nice affordable trip to St. Moritz, Gstaad, or Minorca? To each their own!
RACHEL DOLEZAL PAINTS A JACOLBY SATTERWHITE PORTRAIT
When dealing with artists, I’ve learned it’s best not to question where inspiration comes from. Maybe it’s a fleeting memory of childhood, the anguish of war, or even the creative exploits of disgraced activist Rachel Dolezal.
For those who’ve forgotten, or were lucky enough to be uninitiated, Dolezal made headlines in 2015 when she stepped down from her role as president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP after it was revealed that she was lying about her racial identity.
Dolezal, who was born to white parents, had been posing as a Black woman for years, and it was her biological parents who “outed” her as a white woman. (Dolezal also falsely claimed Native American heritage. It’s a lot.) Eventually, Dolezal ‘fessed up to the whole thing, but still maintains that she “self-identifies” as Black.
Eventually, after her reputation as an activist was destroyed beyond repair, she turned to visual art (she was especially enamored with J. M. W. Turner, who in 1840 painted a slave ship). Since then, Dolezal has quietly been painting and making charcoal drawings. Enter Jacolby Satterwhite‘s sardonic eye.
“I’ve been obsessed with her being an artist for years,” Satterwhite told me. So obsessed, in fact, that his friends commissioned Dolezal to create Portrait of Jacolby (2021) as a birthday gift for Satterwhite, who turned 36 in January. The work even comes with a certificate of authenticity that “acknowledges that this original painting was painted by Rachel Anne Dolezal.”
I sent an email to the Dolezal studio asking what she charges for works, and it turns out this commission went for a modest $550.
“Rachel’s art is for everyone who resonates with a resourceful process, an ongoing resilience, and a revolutionary spirit,” said Shannon Ayers, an associate of Dolezal’s.
A quick look at the artist’s website reveals that she sells custom charcoal drawings for between $350 and $950. But you can get an acrylic work on an 18-by-24 canvas for a cool $1,100.
As I’ve said before, I’m a gossip, not a critic. But there is something sweet about Dolezal’s portrayal of Jacolby. Perhaps it’s just because it’s based on such a cute photo of the artist as a child, but she was able to capture the way the sunlight hit young Jacolby’s face pretty well. I don’t know—it’s not terrible! The piece can be viewed in Satterwhite’s apartment, or very tinily, as his Instagram profile pic.
Wolfgang Tillmans bought a wall-based photo keyring sculpture by Roxy Lee at the exhibition “Cold Lunch” at Ridley Road Project Space in London … The East Village’s Bodega gallery is moving from its spot on Rivington Street to 197 Grand Street in Little Italy … Brooklyn-based abstract painter Angela Heisch has joined GRIMM gallery … Artist Blake Kunin has a book coming out of photographs of New York graffiti artists, ahead of his first solo exhibition at Leo Fitzpatrick’s gallery, Public Access, this spring …
*** A feature in Runner’s World Magazine incorrectly including a photo of Takashi Murakami in a piece referencing novelist Haruki Murakami, yikes! *** Diana Vreeland’s art-filled (I mean filled) apartment is up for sale, although the price is not listed *** David Byrne calling untitled artwork “pure laziness” and a “convention we’ve learned to live with” at a Pace Gallery talk alongside documentarian John Wilson, in which the likely/unlikely duo cracked each other up over and over again before a crowd that included Sarah Sze, Judith Bernstein, and Anne Pasternak *** Jamian Juliano-Villani and her O’Flaherty’s partner Billy Grant modeling garments by Miriam Laura Leonardi, which she made during her residency at the Swiss Institute *** Eric Andre promoting an edible NFT on Instagram *** Lévy Gorvy has erased all of its Instagram history, officially donning the LGDR moniker ***
WET PAINT IN THE WILD
I am simply beyond excited to head back out to the West Coast for Frieze Los Angeles next week. To wet my whistle, I called upon Alex Rojas, director at Anat Ebgi Gallery, to take me through a week in her life, hanging out with the collector crowd out in the city of Angels. Take it away, Alex!
WET PAINT QUESTIONNAIRE
My lovely Wet Paint readership was noticeably shy about last week’s prompt, which was: What art-world person never remembers who you are, no matter how many times you’ve met?
I am unabashed in my answer: I’ve met Jerry Saltz several times, and each time, he forgets me. When I remind him, he goes on to tell me that my generation will be the death of criticism, or something like that.
My colleague Julia Halperin was also unabashed in her answer, writing: “I have spoken to Marc Spiegler on the phone and met him in person—in the bright glare of the Miami Beach Convention Center—at least… a dozen times? C’mon Marc, you know me!” Meanwhile, an anonymous former director at a top-tier gallery name checked dealer Graham Steele.
This week, riddle me this: What’s the best artwork inside someone’s apartment that you can see from the street? Email your responses to [email protected]!
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